The Outlandish Companion is Diana Gabaldon's authoritative guide to all things Outlander. Covering the first four books of the series, this compendium includes:
With her trademark wit and attention to detail, Diana Gabaldon also shares many tips on writing, personal stories, and essays on a wide range of topics including researching historical fiction, 18th century medicine, and more. The Outlandish Companion is packed with information that makes it a must-have resource for every true Outlander fan.
The Outlandish Companion is an indispensable reference guide to all things Outlander. This book covers the first four volumes of the Outlander series, but Diana Gabaldon is reportedly working on a second volume which will detail the books that have been written since this one was published. Being a hard-core fan, I read it from beginning to end, and for the most part found it to be very enjoyable. As with most books of this nature though, some sections were very interesting, helpful, and/or inspiring, while others didn't quite catch my fancy, but thankfully those were few and far between. Reading the book straight through like I did made the repetitions from one section to the next stand out more, but in all fairness, I think the author was simply trying to be thorough in her explanations for those readers who might pick and choose individual sections to peruse based on their interests. Overall though, this was an informative book that IMHO is a must-have for any true Outlander fan.
Below is a section-by-section overview along with my thoughts on each one:
*The prologue lays out the complete story of how Outlander came to be, from the moment Diana Gabaldon came up with the idea of writing a book all the way through to its publication. I'd read most of the pertinent bits of this story before, but it was nice to have it laid out linearly and in detail.
*Part One - Synopses - This includes thoroughly detailed synopses for Outlander, Dragonfly in Amber, Voyager, and Drums of Autumn. Reading these would be a great way to reorient yourself to the series before starting a new book or watching the TV show if it's been a while since you last read them. This is great, especially if you don't have time for a full re-read, which is admittedly a daunting prospect with these lengthy tomes.:-)
*Part Two - Characters - This section begins with Ms. Gabaldon's explanation of how she develops and names her characters, as well as some info on her inclusion of real-life personages as characters. This was fascinating from a reader's standpoint because I enjoyed finding out how these characters I've come to love so much were created. It was also intriguing from a writer's standpoint, because she gives some insights into the craft of character building.
This is followed by a complete cast of characters (from the first four books) in glossary format, which is a great quick reference for finding out more about characters you may have forgotten and how they relate to other characters and plot.
Next is a brief primer on astrology and how astrological readings are done. Never having followed astrology much, I have to admit that this part went way beyond my understanding. The actual horoscope readings for Jamie and Claire that were cast by an experienced astrologist were somewhat interesting in that they seemed surprisingly spot on in describing their personalities, especially Jamie's.
Finally, the author gives a detailed account of how she came to give Claire a medical background and all the various decisions she had to make and challenges she faced in doing so.
*Part Three - Family Trees - This section offers detailed genealogical information for the Beauchamps, Randalls, Frasers, and MacKenzies. I have to admit that the narrative genealogy was rather dry, reminding me of all the begets and begats from the Old Testament of the Bible. However, I did enjoy perusing the family tree charts and found them helpful in understanding how the characters are related.
Following this, is a special genealogical note on Roger Wakefield. I was shocked to discover that quite a number of readers mistakenly believe that Roger is the son of Geillis Duncan and Dougal MacKenzie. Like the author, I found that one to be a head-scratcher as to where this notion came from, and that so many readers would be confused by that. This certainly was never an issue for me, but for anyone who was under this mistaken impression, Ms. Gabaldon lays it to rest with a detailed explanation of Roger's background.
*Part Four - Comprehensive Glossary and Pronunciation Guide - Ever wondered how to pronounce those pesky Gaelic words and phrases? I always just muddled through, knowing that I was probably mangling them badly, since Gaelic isn't a phonetic language. Well, this section is exactly what it sounds like from the title, a complete guide to the meanings and pronunciations of all the foreign terms used in the first four Outlander novels, and it's not just the Gaelic words. It also includes Scots dialect, older English terms that might be unfamiliar to readers, Latin, French, German, Spanish, and Mandarin. The section also begins with a brief primer on Gaelic grammar. I'm sure this will be an indispensable reference when re-reading the books. My only small complaint with this section is that the words/phrases are not arranged alphabetically, which seems like it would offer the greatest ease in locating them. I believe they're arranged in order of their appearance in the books. This might be OK if you're keeping the glossary open while reading the books and referencing it every time a foreign term pops up, but if you're wanting to look up a specific word or phrase, this doesn't seem to be the friendliest way to find it.
*Part Five - Outlandish Web Sites and Online Venues -I'm sorry to say that this section is almost entirely outdated, which is the unfortunate nature of printed materials regarding the World Wide Web. The only two sites that appear to still be operational (or at least that I could still find) were Ms. Gabaldon's own site (which of course has a new URL with her own name as the domain), and the Ladies of Lallybroch. However, their site could use a major design overhaul to bring it into the 21st century. On a side note, I very much enjoyed the author's story of meeting the Ladies of Lallybroch in Canada along with the 'Scottish' stripper they'd hired.;-)
*Part Six - Research - This section begins with an overview on researching historical fiction. As a writer, I find the prospect of doing research rather daunting, and consequently, it's my least favorite part of the writing process. Therefore, I really enjoyed reading this part of the book, because Ms. Gabaldon gave me a new perspective on it by showing me that it doesn't have to be so scary.:-)
Next is an explanation of the author's research into herbal medicine. I found it particularly amusing how the UK publisher actually included a disclaimer in their edition of Outlander, which basically said, "Don't try this at home."
Lastly is a complete thread from the Compuserve Writer's Forum where the author was asking for feedback regarding her use of penicillin in an excerpt from The Fiery Cross. IMO, it was very much indicative of a typical online discussion i.e. the author is looking for specific information on penicillin and whether the scene she wrote rang true from a medical perspective, but in addition to getting the information she wants, she ends up receiving responses that focus on other details, which in some cases are helpful and in others, not so much.
*Part Seven - Where Titles Come From - I loved learning about how Ms. Gabaldon came up with the titles for her books. Based on what I know of the publishing industry, it's a pretty rare privilege for an author to be allowed to title his/her own books, so I'm glad that she was able to have that kind of input. She also explains why the UK title of the book is Cross-Stitch rather than Outlander.
The second part of this section is the Gabaldon Theory of Time Travel, which is utterly fascinating to the geek in me. I'm sure I've read parts of her theory before, but this presentation was very detailed. She has obviously put a lot of thought into how this time travel thing would work if, indeed, it were real.
*Part Eight - The View from Lallybroch - The subtitle of this section is Objects of Vertue, Objects of Use, but otherwise there's no other explanation of the contents of this sections. Consequently, I was a little confused by it, as it seems to just be a collection of random excerpts from the books, along with a couple of anecdotes and some illustrations. I guess the purpose was to highlight various objects of importance from the stories, and perhaps to set the scene. [shrug] I did enjoy the illustrations of Lallybroch and the jewelry such as Claire's wedding rings and the pearls that previously belonged to Jamie's mother.
*Part Nine - Frequently Asked Questions - This section is exactly what the title says, a list of questions the author is frequently asked by readers and her answers. Many of these I'd seen before, but there were some new ones that I found intriguing, especially those relating to the writing craft and character motivations. It's always interesting to hear straight from their creator what certain characters are thinking or feeling at a given moment in the story, because it can really help the reader to better understand them.
*Part Ten - Controversy - This was actually one of my favorite sections. In it, Ms. Gabaldon shares her reasoning behind the inclusion of various elements in the story, which some readers have found offensive. This includes sex, language, homosexuality (not surprisingly, this section was the most extensive), abortion, wife-beating, and a couple of other minor issues. I thought all of her responses were extremely articulate and well-thought-out, as well as presenting a well-reasoned defense for the inclusion of such potentially controversial material. I couldn't have agreed with her more on all points, and it was nice to know that I've always been on the same page with her regarding these things. The only tiny thing she didn't address in the wife-beating part was Jamie's off-handed admission that he kind of enjoyed it. The actual beating never bothered me much, as I took it in the historical context in which it was intended, but his words after did, as it seemed a slightly sadistic thing to say. However, it was such a small part of the story, it never detracted from my overall enjoyment of Outlander, and I'm also willing to admit that maybe I took it the wrong way. Perhaps if I re-read that scene again with the enlightenment of Ms. Gabaldon's other remarks, it will provide more clarification.
*Part Eleven - Work in Progress: Excerpts of Future Books - I admittedly skipped most of this section, as I'm not much for reading long excerpts of upcoming books, especially those which are already (now) published, and which I plan on reading soon. For readers who do enjoy this, it includes an excerpt from The Fiery Cross and "Surgeon's Steel," which I read elsewhere in the book was originally published as a short story in an anthology but is included in its entirety in A Breath of Snow and Ashes (which at the time this book was written was titled King, Farewell). I did, however, read The Cannibal's Art, which was a wonderful sneak-peak into the busy every-day life of a best-selling author. I'm not even a best-seller, and this sounded a lot like most of my days. That made me feel so much better about not getting much writing done some days. Then again, we writers are always writing even if it's just in our minds.;-)
*In the back of the book there is an annotated bibliography, organized by topics. It's a pretty comprehensive list of the books Ms. Gabaldon used for research. This would be very helpful to any writer who might be considering writing a novel set in approximately the same time and place as the Outlander books. It would also be useful for culture and history buffs or those who simply want to learn more about the settings, cultures, medical practices, etc. that are a such a big part of Outlander.
*Last but not least, there are seven appendices, covering a variety of topics. The first, Errata, details all the errors which readers have brought to her attention. Some of them are mere typos, others are actual errors, and still others are simply perceived errors that aren't actually errors at all, accompanied by an explanation of why they aren't. I was quite impressed that it was a relatively short list for four monster tomes. It just goes to show what a skillful writer Diana Gabaldon really is. Next, is a list of Gaelic resources for readers who might be interested in learning to speak Gaelic. Then there are the full texts of various poems and quotations that are used in the books, followed by A Brief Primer on Genealogical Research that includes a number of resources for readers who may have been inspired by the books to look into their own family history. After that is A Brief Discography of Celtic Music for anyone who would like to add relevant background music to their reading material, and a list of foreign editions of the books, along with descriptions of their covers. It was interesting learning which covers Ms. Gabaldon liked and which ones made her cringe. To wrap things up she includes what she calls her Methadone List. This is a list of other books she recommends to readers who are looking for something else to read while waiting for the next Outlander installment to be released, and there are quite a few interesting titles on it. My TBR list is growing from having read it.;-)
Whew! That's a lot of stuff packed into a volume that's about two-thirds as long as the novels themselves (taking into account the larger size of this book and the fact that it's formatted in a two-column style). As I said before, IMHO, this is a must-have reference book for all true Outlander fans. There's so much information here, anyone who really loves these books as much as I do should find something of interest if not lots of things. So dig in and have fun!:-)
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